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Space Power Technology

NSSO on Space Based Solar Power 198

apsmith writes "About a year ago some of the people at the US National Security Space Office began looking into space-based solar power (SBSP) as a technology in the near-term strategic interests of the United States. At first the participants were skeptical, and the "phase 0 study" went along with no official funding. In a rather innovative move, they organized the study as a series of internet-based (bulletin-board and email) discussions, with the wordpress site open to the public, and a closed experts-only discussion using Google Groups. Initially expecting only a dozen or so interested parties, the discussion grew to include over 170 people with past expertise and interest in the issues. The final report was released Wednesday morning; it provides an excellent broad-brush review of the status of SBSP, showing immense potential, but also a number of challenges that appear only surmountable with a strong government commitment to the project. The big question is where it goes from here — NASA? DARPA? The new ARPA-E? Or something new? I was able to attend the press conference, which included Buzz Aldrin in an announcement of a new alliance to push for implementing the recommendations of the report."
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NSSO on Space Based Solar Power

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  • cool (Score:3, Insightful)

    by spykemail ( 983593 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @07:20PM (#20934487) Homepage
    Maybe the solar satellites can double as a baseball cap for the Earth :).
  • by iamlucky13 ( 795185 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @07:25PM (#20934509)
    How is it better to lift your solar panels into orbit, generate your electricity, then beam it to the surface at (optimistically) 50% efficiency, and then receive the beamed power at (optimistically) 50% efficiency, meanwhile creating the navigational hazards of the power beams and still requiring distribution from receiving stations rather than simply generating it via panels at the point of use?

    Don't get me wrong, I'm all for finding ways to utilize space, but I don't see how this is even remotely economical, especially at our current technology levels.

    Convince me.
  • by apsmith ( 17989 ) * on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @07:35PM (#20934601) Homepage
    Saves on transmission and storage.

    No weather, and a clear view (no atmosphere at all in the way).

    That gives you a factor between 5 and 10 over on-the-ground systems to start with.

    If you really lose 50% in transmission *and* 50% in receiving the case is harder to make - most estimates seem to have higher numbers for overall system end-to-end efficiency, but of course nobody's buit one yet.
  • by timmarhy ( 659436 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @07:56PM (#20934765)
    just how do you propose to get the electricity back to earth from venus.

    how do you propose we maintain them from that distance? yes, solar cells aren't this eternal source of power people think they are. expect to need to do rolling replacments every 10 years atleast, if not more under those conditions.

  • by lgw ( 121541 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @08:01PM (#20934803) Journal

    How is it better to lift your solar panels into orbit, generate your electricity, then beam it to the surface at (optimistically) 50% efficiency
    It's better because now you have a hugely powerful microwave cannon in orbit that can fry anyone you need it to. Thinking about an orbital power station other than as a weapon is probably misguided. This is probably a feature for the "National Security Space Office".
  • by forgotenpasswerdmoro ( 955491 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @08:27PM (#20935011)
    A big beam, needs a big mirror. Be it microwave, infrared or visible light it's a huge gun in orbit, untouchable by IEDs and lesser nations. It doesn't even need to work that well, just 10 x amplification from nominal and any spot on earth is unlivable. Or operate as a great psychological weapon when a given region is bathed in light 24 hours a day. It is a very bad idea, like SDI was a bad idea, like the further militarization of space is a bad idea.
  • by tygt ( 792974 ) on Wednesday October 10, 2007 @09:13PM (#20935371)
    Face it, we're already concerned about relying on an unstable Middle East for our energy.

    We're certainly not going to rely on a very fragile orbiting setup which is a sitting duck to anyone with a decent missile/launch vehicle.

  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) <> on Thursday October 11, 2007 @12:18AM (#20936427) Homepage Journal
    hehe, did you even look at any of the results?
  • by theolein ( 316044 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @01:55AM (#20936861) Journal
    I remember, back in 1980 or so, when all the Reagan fans were jumping for joy because the actor was more popular than a naval nuclear engineer (yes; Carter actually knew his shit), Carter had proposed a system of orbital solar power stations []. It would have been more or less the same thing as they are proposing today. Those of you who have access to Time magazine's archives will find an article on it.

    So, here we are today, some 27 years later, and the same proposal gets floated.

    Imagine if laziness hadn't dropped the issue back then. Iran, Iraq and the whole business of 9/11 would have been less critical than they now are.
  • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Thursday October 11, 2007 @02:45AM (#20937029) Homepage

    We're certainly not going to rely on a very fragile orbiting setup which is a sitting duck to anyone with a decent missile/launch vehicle.

    These things will be high up - in GSO, which takes it right out of the range of any ICBM based launcher. Unless you can figure out how to pack propulsion, power, guidance, and a Dangerous Payload into a five to ten pounds or so... (And no, the classic 'handful of sand' or 'paint chip' or 'styrofoam cup' won't cut it here - the interception geometry is different from that with orbital debris in LEO. Not to mention these things are Very Big - and hitting the very few, and very small, critical targets in the array is going to be Very Hard.) Guidance and control are going to be major headaches.
    A major spacefaring nation might be able to carry it off with a few years R&D - but the launches aren't going to be stealthy and whodunit is going to be very obvious.
  • by jambox ( 1015589 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @04:54AM (#20937543)

    "Conflict prevention is of particular interest to securityproviding institutions such as the U.S. Department of Defense."

    Hmmmm - not on recent evidence!
  • by Xiaran ( 836924 ) on Thursday October 11, 2007 @06:27AM (#20938017)
    The earths atmosphere is transparent to certain microwave frequencies.

Competence, like truth, beauty, and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder. -- Dr. Laurence J. Peter